Very few things in this world are as painful and traumatic as losing a loved one. No matter how it happens, how expected it may have been, it still hurts. Loss is an acute and devastatingly powerful thing and it affects every aspect of those suffering from it, driving them into denial, rage, and depression. Nothing feels real, right? It’s a nightmare you are all too ready to wake up from.
Naturally, those suffering from this grief are looking for any opportunity to feel closer to whoever they lost. If someone you love has just passed away, it is entirely understandable that you want to take something of theirs for sentimental value, but you may not be able to do so as quickly as you like. Tennessee probate law is in place to ensure the last wishes of its citizens are honored after death — no matter what living relatives think.
What can you do with a deceased loved one’s property before probate concludes?
Restless, desperate, heartsick, and just plain exhausted. Grief is a harrowing process. For adults, it can be even harder, as adults understand death clearly. Not only that, but we often do not have the luxury of taking as much time off work as we would like to get our loved one’s affairs in order, so we must deal with our grief while also managing our daily responsibilities, in addition to whatever you may be accountable for regarding the deceased’s arrangements.
It’s a lot. There is no way around it and there is nothing to be said that makes that better. That being said, that is what probate is for. Probate is the legal distribution of someone’s assets by a court-appointed representative and in Tennessee, it’s a requirement. As frustrating as it may be, it exists to make sure your loved one’s estate is handled fairly and legally, with no rash decisions or chances of in-family betrayal.
But it does, in fact, mean that you are not able to take any items, even for sentimental purposes, from the deceased’s estate until probate concludes. The entire estate is legally frozen to prevent fraud, as an important part of the process includes taking inventory of everything in the deceased’s possession, regardless of whether or not it is specifically listed in the will. Depending on the size of your loved one’s estate, the complete probate process can take anywhere from months to years.
If your loved one did not have a will, probate is still necessary, but any assets without a listed beneficiary would be distributed by the court to their closest surviving relative. That relative, whether it is you or someone else, still must wait for this distribution to happen.
Steps after probate and before selling
When you are coping with the loss of someone you love, the very last thing you want to feel on top of it is “useless.” Even though you are certainly no such thing for taking time to grieve and rest, it’s still an understandable and stressful feeling, and can be quite common during the probate process. You want to empty their house, take things that are important to you, pack up their memories. You want to be able to put them to rest in every possible way. Maybe you’re the child of the deceased and you need to prepare their home to sell.
There is no loophole around a frozen estate, but there are other things you can do that may help those gnawing insecurities loosen their grip. Before probate concludes, you can:
- Change the locks of the house for extra security (especially if you suspect another family member wants to try something underhanded — for example, if they want something specific but they know it is not left to them in the will)
- Have their mail forwarded to your address
- Keep up with home maintenance and cleaning
- Continue paying for necessities like house insurance but,
- Cancel frivolous subscriptions like magazines, so you have less to do in the future
- Organize and make sure all important documents are in safe, accessible places
Try not to think of the process as something preventing you from getting started, and instead work alongside probate to make everything just a little bit easier for your future self. Once probate concludes and everything has been distributed, you can begin the task of properly clearing out the rest and preparing the property for sale (if applicable). This is its own stress and trauma, of course, so we recommend doing it with someone else for support. Take your time with it; let the grief work and process in your mind.
After probate, you will want to:
- Destroy sensitive information of theirs, like Social Security numbers and cards
- Keep paying for utility bills and the like until you are able to cancel them
- Collect all important documents to keep safe
- Utilize piles for organizing what to keep, donate/sell, and throw away
- Consider hiring an appraiser and estate liquidator
Again, nothing about this is easy, but it is also not impossible. Your world may be upside-down, but you do not have to figure out how to navigate this process alone. Experienced professionals make their living helping people like you get through this by making it as easy and palatable as possible.
At Shepherd & Long, our team of Maryville probate attorneys want to answer your questions and address your concerns in any way we can. We proudly represent our clients throughout East Tennessee and Blount County. Call us today at 865-982-8060 or use our contact form to get the legal help you deserve.